Story by Trey Martin and Destiny White, photo by Monica Herndon from Tampa Bay Times
All eyes were fixed upon Raymond-James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Jan. 9 for the championship game of the 2017 College Football Playoff. The game, a rematch of the previous year’s national title game, featured southern powerhouse Clemson and defending champion Alabama.
After a slow start to the game, Clemson was able to complete their third fourth quarter comeback of the season, beating the undefeated Crimson Tide 35-31 in a shocking upset.
“We finally put in hard work and it paid off and it feels good to have a team from South Carolina to win the championship. It’s very special to me,” junior Myah Hancock said. “All the work they put it on and off field is great and it paid off after they won.”
The win gave Clemson their second national title in school history, their first since 1981. The team was able to avenge last season’s 45-40 loss in the national title to the Tide.
After being selected as the interim head coach following Tommy Bowden’s midseason departure in 2008, Dabo Swinney revamped the Clemson football program, taking them all the way from a middle-tier ACC team to the best program in the country. This continued success has fans excited for the future.
“A lot of the seniors are leaving but I think Dabo Swinney will recruit and coach some good players to fill in the spots,” senior Zach Adkins said.
Clemson was lead by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, who finished second overall in the Heisman trophy voting. Watson finished with four total touchdowns, three through the air, on 420 yards passing against an Alabama defense that was widely considered one of the most dangerous defenses of all-time. The Tigers had four receivers go over the 90 yard mark.
Alabama controlled the game for the first three quarters behind sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough. The 6’2” 228 pound freak of nature tormented the Clemson secondary, rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns before a leg injury in the third quarter took him out of the remainder of the game.
“During the first quarter I was really worried because [Clemson] wasn’t playing to their fullest and they were holding back, but they played like they were nervous and they had some good plays but they didn’t play like they wanted to win,” Myah said. “In the fourth quarter they came back and won and I was really proud.”
After Scarbrough’s sudden exit, the Tide offense was not able to move the ball, as true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts finished 13-31 for 131 yards and a passing touchdown, enabling the Clemson comeback.
The unlikely hero for the Tigers was junior wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had ten receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner with one second left in the game.
“Hunter Renfrow has to get some love too. Two touchdowns in the national championship against Nick Saban again, all while originally committing to Clemson as a two star walk-on, that man is insane and he definitely deserves big credit in helping the team win it all,” senior Jacob Phillips said.
A handful of Dutch Fork students made the drive from Irmo to Tampa to see their team play in its second national title in as many years.
“Being at the national championship is something you can’t describe to people. It was by far the best experience of my life so far and it’ll take a lot to top it. Tampa was amazing and the atmosphere at the game was unforgettably insane,” Jacob said.
Looking ahead to next season, Clemson will have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, as names such as Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Ben Boulware, and Jadar Johnson will all be leaving the team, among others. After finishing the season on top, fans are confident in the teams ability to rebuild for next season.
“I hope they make [next season] better than this year,” Myah said. “And I hope they meet all their expectations and I hope they stay determined and focused and take the dub.”